Akwa United, MFM undaunted by tough continental ties

Posted on Mar 25 2018 - 11:48am by admin

Idris Adesina

Nigeria’s four teams campaigning in the 2018 CAF Confederation Cup were during the week kept apart in the draw for the final playoff round, which precedes the group stage of the competition, but were handed difficult opponents.

In the draws conducted in Cairo, Egypt, former African champions Enyimba were handed a tie against South African league champions Bidvest Wits with the South Africans hosting the first leg.

Aiteo Cup champions Akwa United were drawn against Sudanese giants Al Hilal while Premier League champions Plateau United, whocrashed out of the Champions League, play Algerian side USM Alger.

The country’s other Champions League side, MFM, who are fresh from a 6-0 defeat to Algerians MC Alger, were returned to Mali for their playoff game. The Olukoya Boys eliminated AS Real Bamako in the preliminary round of the Champions League but will now face Djoilba AC in their first-ever Confederation Cup game.

Both Plateau United and MFM will play at home first on the weekend of April 7 before traveling to Algiers and Bamako respectively for their second leg fixtures 10 days later. But Enyimba and Akwa have the benefit of hosting their second leg games on home soil. Enyimba will travel to the Bidvest Stadium in Johannesburg for their first leg match on the weekend of April 7, same time Akwa United face Al Hilal in Khartoum for their first leg fixture.

Winners of this round progress to the expanded group stage of the CAF Confederation Cup.

However, coaches of some of the Nigerian clubs have expressed confidence on their chances of making the group stages of the competition.

Akwa coach Abdu Maikaba and MFM manager Fidelis Ilechukwu said with enough preparations, their clubs would progress to the group stage of the competition.

Maikaba said he believed that the four clubs would not underrate their opponents, adding that their opponents would also be wary of the threats they pose.

“The opponents we got will be difficult but we will work very hard towards scaling that hurdle. We know Al Hilal are a very good side, and they are experienced in the competition, we will need work hard to defeat them to get to the next round,” he told our correspondent during the week.

“What we need to do is to work hard and get our result either home or away.Akwa may not have much experience but we have played some tough opponents to get to this stage. We have played a Gambian side, who defeated us at home and we had to work harder to beat them on their home turf. Al-Ittihad were also tough but we won’t look at the game in that light because no two opponents are the same.So, I believe that with determination, a positive mindset and proper planning, we will get the job done.”

Ilechukwu said, “We have a lot to do as a team and I believe that we can get to the group stage. It will be very tough because Malian teams are not very easy to play. We played one of them in the Champions League and it was quite tough.”

Enyimba’s opponents Wits dropped to the Confederation Cup from the Champions League after they lost to Angolan side Primeiro de Agosto 3-2 on penalties after a 1-1 aggregate draw. Wits have only won the PSL once in the 2016/17 season and on the continent, they have never won any title. Their best appearance was the playoff round of the 2017 Confederation Cup.

Al Hilal exited the Champions League after losing to Togolese champions AS Togo-Port on away goals rule. The 26-time Sudan Premier League champions have yet to win any continental title.

USM Alger have won the country’s Premier League seven times. They finished third last season to compete in the Confederation Cup this season. They eliminated AS Union Manema of Congo on away goals after a 3-3 aggregate score in the first round of the qualifiers. However on the continent, USM finished as runners-up in the 2015 Champions League.

Djoliba are the current Malian Cup winners and they walked over ELWA United of Liberia in the preliminary round before eliminating Rwandan side APR on the away goals rule after a 2-2 aggregate score. Djoliba’s best result on the continent was in 2012 when they finished as runners-up to AC Leopards of Congo in the Confederation Cup.

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